Defense of Marriage Act Struck Down by Supreme Court

By Alistair M. Nevius, J.D.

Court Decisions

The Supreme Court held at the end of its term in June that a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), P.L. 104-199, is unconstitutional because it violates the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause by denying equal protection to same-sex couples who are lawfully married in their states (Windsor, No. 12-307 (U.S. 6/26/13)).

DOMA, which was enacted in 1996, defines marriage for federal law purposes as the legal union of one man and one woman. Under Section 3 of DOMA, same-sex marriage was not recognized for any federal purposes, including insurance benefits, Social Security benefits, the filing of joint tax returns, and the unlimited marital estate tax exemption available to opposite-sex married couples.

In Windsor , the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York held that Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sex couples, and the Second Circuit affirmed the decision ( Windsor , 833 F. Supp. 2d 394 (S.D.N.Y. 2012), aff’d, 699 F.3d 169 (2d Cir. 2012)). The Supreme Court upheld those decisions, ruling that DOMA interferes with states’ power to regulate marriage by forcing “same-sex couples to live as married for the purpose of state law but unmarried for the purpose of federal law, thus diminishing the stability and predictability of basic personal relations the State has found it proper to acknowledge and protect” (slip op. at 22).

For more on this decision and its planning consequences, see the Personal Financial Planning column.

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